The Red Ribbon Army is on the move and causing nothing but trouble for young Goku.
What They Say
The search for the seven magic balls continues!
After meeting his match in the World Martial Arts Tournament, Goku embarks on a mission to recover the Four Star Dragon Ball that once belonged to his grandfather. His treacherous quest will take him from the terrifying heights of Muscle Tower to the darkest depths of the deep blue sea. But with the Flying Nimbus under his feet and Bulma's Dragon Radar leading the way, there's nothing mighty Goku can't handle.
With a dangerous new adversary out to get him, this will be Goku's most dangerous adventure yet. The sinister Red Ribbon Army, led by cigar-chomping Commander Red, is determined to seize the seven Dragon Balls and use them to conquer the world! Watch as colonels, generals, ninjas, android pirates, and giant pink monsters use every dirty trick in the book to stop Goku from getting his hands on the magic Dragon Balls!
Contains episodes 32-61.
Dragon Ball has about what I expected from the show when it comes to the audio, particularly since even the high definition releases have such low definition audio for the Japanese side. The English mix gets a decent 5.1 presentation, encoded at 448kbps, which is mostly devoted to the forward soundstage in a somewhat loud and brash manner when appropriate. Generally it feels like it’s more about volume level than anything else, but the track sounds good and fans of the English language side will be pleased. The Japanese language track is done in mono, encoded at a lowly 96kbps. It doesn’t need that much more because it’s not going to sound all that much better no matter what. It’s a very simple show, especially as it was done in the mid 80’s, and what we get here is what most people heard when it was first shown on TV.
Originally airing from 1986 to 1989, Dragon Ball is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This set has thirty one episodes on it split up in a very strange way, where the first three discs have seven episodes each, the fourth has six and the fifth disc has three episodes plus the clean opening and closing, so it’s not using a lot of that space. Having not seen any of the Japanese releases of it, I can’t say how close they are to those, but this set looks really good when taken into the context of the previous releases from FUNimation and the age of the show. It’s not completely clean or anything, there are noticeable areas of blocking and banding to be had at times, generally with dark areas, but overall it’s far better than what we’ve had before and it looks good. Not fantastic, there’s no way this show could look fantastic I think, but it’s the best it’s looked in the US to date. I would have preferred that the episode layout per disc was a bit better though.
Though it’s not my preferred packaging of choice, FUNimation has done right by Dragon Ball by taking what they did with Dragon Ball Z and applying here, but with a great shade of blue instead of bright orange. The digipak is easy to identify with Kuririn on the front, the sideways logo and a clear listing of it being season one. The back of the slipcover has a very good layout with several shots from the show and a sizeable summary of what it’s all about. The episode count is given a couple of times and the discs features are nice and clean as well. Inside the slipcover we get the standard foldout digipak piece which is done in a good shade blue with the outside featuring the same front as the slipcover and the rest has the blue with the turtle logo. Opening it up to the discs, the background has Shen Long spread out across it in shades of blue. Included in this is a booklet that covers character profiles for those that show up in the second season as well as a breakdown of all thirty episodes. While I would have preferred a simple slipcover with five thinpak cases to hold each disc, I do appreciate the consistency between the seasons, since Dragon Ball Z is done this way as is Dragon Ball GT.
The menu design for the series is very simple and straightforward as it uses the colors, theme and design of the front packaging. The bulk of the menu is either black or blue space with a small part of Goku from the front cover used to give it some color. The bottom strip has the navigation, which includes the wonderfully useful marathon play for a series like this, and all of it is very quick and easy to navigate. Submenus load very quickly and are responsive though the language menus don’t recognize our players’ preset defaults. Though it doesn’t have much to it, the menus look good and fit with the overall theme of the release and are solidly consistent.
The only extras included with this release are on the last disc which is just the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
It was around this batch of episodes that I originally started to find Dragon Ball really appealing back when I picked up some of the old FUNimation releases years ago that made no sense when it came to what order to watch them. The thirty episodes on this set covers a whole lot of ground, or at least introduces quite a few new characters and settings, as Goku continues on his hunt for his grandpa’s memento that he simply doesn’t want to be without. And considering that Goku really doesn’t have any attachment to anything other than getting some food in his belly, it’s hard to really complain that he’s a one trick pony over it or obsessive.
Much of these episodes, almost all of them in fact, deal with Goku searching for the on dragon ball he wants but invariably finding the others. And he’s continually stymied by the Red Ribbon Army that keeps showing up and trying to take them from him as well as taking his radar. Initially he has to deal with Colonel Silver, which rounds out the storyline from the previous volume with Pilaf and his foolishness with the dragon balls, and then he gets to move on to his next opponent. This one is actually an area that I enjoyed because it kept Goku in one place for a bit and threw some different things at him, including snow. The lad hadn’t seen any before and his reactions are simple but cute as he begins to understand what it means to be cold when he heads up north to find the next ball.
In this area, the focus is on a tower that the Red Ribbon Army has there that’s under the control of General White. White, residing on the uppermost tower, has in his possession a nearby village chief for reasons that really don’t matter. Goku gets caught up in the event due to a village girl that helped him so he decides to take down the bad guys that are really starting to tick him off. The arc plays pretty well as Goku makes his way up the couple of levels that are there and he makes a friend along the way in a Frankenstein’s Monster character, battles with a bad Arnold Terminator parody and works through a goofily dangerous ninja master before having to deal with General White himself. Like a lot of this series, Goku’s innocent nature and his mild temper make it work well as it’s really just fun to watch him cope with the way the world is so odd and strange to him.
As the set progresses, the show does lose me a little bit and then a lot before it gains me back. The second arc deals primarily with General Blue who makes a concerted effort to go after Goku and the radar by tracking him to Kame House. Unfortunately, Goku has teamed up with Bulma and Kuririn at this point to use Muten Roshi’s submarine to search out one of the dragon balls that’s underwater nearby. This ties in to a pirate’s treasure that’s supposedly there so the chase is on, which leads to a fascinatingly complex underground location that’s filled to the rafters with gold and booty. The pirate angle felt really forced at times and General Blue comes off a bit badly with his nature, but by and large it’s a decent arc that does bring both Bulma and Kuririn back into play for awhile which is really quite necessary to do at times. Though it is largely the Goku show, he’s made better by the diverse and fun supporting cast.
Where this season of Dragon Ball really lost me is when it came to the Penguin Village arc. Goku’s search for General Blue leads him to this place where he loses track of him and ends up dealing with a village full of weird people. And that’s weird people for a series like Dragon Ball which is populated with a fair number of oddities. They’re even more weird shaped than usual, it has little psychic babies, flying fairies and people with massive heads and tiny bodies. It’s a very strange arc in that, to me, it doesn’t feel like the rest of the series and almost comes across like filler rather than a part of the main story. Because of the strangeness of it and the way it doesn’t really change anything other than Blue getting away with some of the Dragon Balls, it’s a pretty empty and annoying arc.
Which is thankfully followed by the far more interesting Karin tower arc that is a lot more interesting. In his search for Blue and the dragon balls, Goku lands in this wooded area where there is a massive tower reaching into the sky. The arc only runs a few episodes on this volume as it focuses primarily on Commander Red sending the notorious assassin named Taopaipai to kill Goku and retrieve the dragon balls. The tower supposedly leads to a super spiritual water that will grant immense strength but none have gone all the way to the top before, save one person. And when Goku learns who that is, it only inspires him even more. The tower eventually becomes a key piece of the franchise and its origins here are a lot of fun to watch as Goku finally gains a serious reason to seek out the dragon balls for a wish of his own and will need that strength in order to achieve it.
While this set doesn’t have a ton of strong material, it has a lot of good material in it and it continues to show the growth that Goku is going through. There is a lot to like here if you’re a Goku fan but if you like a lot of the other characters, it’ll be more difficult. Bulma and Kuririn get some nice screen time here and Muten Roshi gets to be his usual pervy self, but some of the others are left behind almost completely like Yamucha. That said, other than the Penguin Village arc, this is a lot of good simple fun with a really dirty edge to it that’s still very surprising at times. Getting thirty episodes at a time in good form like this really does make the show far more appealing than it was in the previous varied collections. This is again definitely the best of the best for Dragon Ball in the US market.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.